As citizens of the United States we exist under a federal system of government. There are different levels of the system, each cooperating with the next and each having some form of formal authority over the people. The age long argument has been: “more state power is most effective – no, more federal power is most effective”. There are also those who believe that an equal cooperation between both state and federal governments, our current way of separating power, is the most effective.
So where should the line be drawn and which is most effective?
The Constitution gave us a basic outline for how we should run our government. The bottom line is cooperative federalism – powers and policy assignments are shared between states and the national government and they may also share costs, administration, and even blame for programs that work poorly (Edwards 81). The idea of cooperative federalism has raised an important question: Where do the boundaries of national government end and where do the boundaries of state governments begin? The tenth amendment has somewhat of an answer to where the state boundaries begin.
It says that if a state is not given a power directly by the constitution but is not prohibited from using that power then it is the state’s right to use and regulate that power. As for the boundaries of the national government, the supreme court case of McCulloch v. Maryland gives a good example. In 1791 the government established a national bank. This bank could print money and make loans as well as a number of other banking responsibilities.
Many people who believed that the government should have a limited amount of control over the economy were opposed to the idea of a national bank.
Eventually the government stopped funding the bank, but not long after came the second national bank. Out of defiance to the bank, the state of Maryland passed a law taxing the Baltimore branch $15,000 a year which it refused to pay. Maryland decided to sue the branch’s cashier, James McCulloch, and after the state’s law was upheld McCulloch took the case to the Supreme Court. Chief Justice John Marshall ruled in favor of the bank on the grounds that Congress has certain implied powers and that because of these implied powers creating a national bank was perfectly acceptable.
Just like the state governments, the powers of the national government are not always clear and can be interpreted rather narrowly or quite broadly. In Article 1 Section 8 of the constitution the powers of congress are specifically listed-enumerated powers-but this section of the constitution also includes the “necessary and proper clause” This clause states that Congress may create any laws or policies it sees fit to apply the powers specifically spelled out. Going hand-in-hand with implied powers and the “necessary and proper clause” is the commerce clause.
The commerce clause gives congress the right to regulate commerce. Commerce can be defined today as the movement of goods, radio signals, electricity, telephone messages, the internet, insurance transactions, and more (Edwards 77). Congress regulates the movement of all of these between the U. S and foreign nations, between states, and between Indian Tribes. With an extremely broad definition of commerce people have become concerned with how much power the national government actually has. Contributing to this concern are grants-in-aid and unfunded mandates.
Grants-in-aid are grants given to state government from the federal government to aid in different programs and projects. Concern arises because grants often come with strings attached and sometimes are not given to states until they fulfill certain requirements (this would be an example of a mandate). Sometimes the government passes a law and expects states to follow that law and fund it without help from the government; this is an unfunded mandate. The federal government often uses grants-in-aid and unfunded mandates to have more control over what happens within the states which is where the concern of cooperation and boundaries comes from.
In addition to the different components of federalism, there are pieces of legislature that also make people question whether more, less, or the same amount of power to the states is most effective. Among these pieces of legislature are the Affordable Care Act and the Clean Air Act. The Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, was designed to make health insurance more readily available and more affordable. Obamacare, has two key components: an individual mandate and Medicaid expansion.
People who do not have health insurance, either through their employer or personally, are required to purchase health care before 2014. Anyone who does not follow this mandate will be required to pay a “shared responsibility payment” to the Federal government. As of right now Medicaid covers pregnant women, children, needy families, the blind, the elderly, and the disabled. Obamacare would expand this by requiring states to provide care to adults with incomes up to 133 percent of the federal poverty level. This act also increases the amount of money states will receive for this mandate.
In the case that a state does not follow the Medicaid expansion it may lose all funding for both the requirements and Medicaid. The Clean Air Act regulates the amount of pollutants floating in the air, the amount of pollutants released by industrial and mobile sources, and the types of fines and sanctions levied against pollution violators (Potoski 335). The environmental protection agency allows states to take responsibility of the requirements in their state and as long as they follow the minimum requirements the state will receive funding from the government.
If a state does not comply with the minimum standards for clean air, the Clean Air Act will become an unfunded mandate just the same as Obamacare would become an unfunded mandate. Where Obamacare and the Clean Air Act are concerned, policymaking is most effective through state and federal cooperation. First and foremost if a state decided not to follow the requirements of expanding Medicaid, the burden of an unfunded mandate would rest on the shoulders of its citizens and its government. The same would go for the Clean Air Act. This may even be worse considering the point of the Clean Air Act is to keep our air clean.
Without the cooperation of the states we don’t have clean air and without clean air we have sickness and unhealthy conditions for our citizens. This being said cooperation is extremely important between the levels of government. If the federal government were to have more control, at least where these policies are concerned, there is the potential danger of the government issuing these policies and not providing funding for them because they don’t want to spend the money or they want to show how powerful they are or for whatever reason.
In the event that this happens the states are stuck with a pretty large burden of making sure that they have enough money to meet the standards of Medicaid expansion and the clean air act. In the case that states had more power, inconsistency would become a reality. Every state is different. They want different things and not all are willing to meet the same standards. If enough inconsistency occurs and each state creates different standards for their policies, there’s almost no point to having the federal government because states start to believe themselves to be independent.
With all of that being said, policymaking is most effective through state and federal cooperation. With more power to one or the other we lose sight of a democracy. Our country was designed on the basis of cooperative federalism. We wouldn’t be the United States anymore without the federal government, without the states, or with one having more power over the other. Our system of checks and balances provides us with an effective way of accomplishing our goals and staying united. Federalism In America
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